The magic of Mudigere

Carved by the timelessness of the Western Ghats and the silence of the mist, Mudigere in Chikkamagaluru district is beauty redefined, writes Nilanjan Coomar

Hills in Mudigere

Nestled in the lap of the Western Ghats, Mudigere in Karnataka is a land of rare and quiet magic, carved by the silence of the mist and the timelessness of the hills. Blessed by a lushness found in few other places on planet earth, Mudigere is a surfeit of green that fills your senses with a freshness that lingers long after. And through all this, you can hear a story of how a land is made by the water that flows through it.

Green everywhere

It is green everywhere and it comes in many shades. An insistent cover of green hides the redness of the earth below. Out in the paddy fields that we passed on our way up here, it is a lighter, fresher green that lets sunlight pass through the reeds when the wind rustles among the stalks. Over the stones that sleep on the slopes of these timeless hills, the green is deeper and murkier, like it has secrets to keep, and will not be prised from the rock into which it has been etched by the passage of time and all the rain and all the water. There is fern and lichen on the bark of the old trees that tower around us, trees that try to be greater and bigger than the mist, but this green on them is softer and quieter.

Along with all the verdant bounty of nature, coffee is another story that flows through this place. Far from the valleys of Ethiopia (Abyssinia, as it was called then) from where it came, this plant is now well at home in these hills, nurtured by generations of planters who have long found that the climes of this corner of South India are particularly favourable for it to take root and flourish. For many, coffee is more than just a beverage; it is steeped in history and culture, and representative of not just a cherished plant, but an entire way of life.

In recent times, things have been changing, and it is actually nature-seeking tourists, adventurers, and more preciously bird-watchers, who are thronging these plantations. The reality today is that coffee fetches a poor price and skilled labour is increasingly hard to source, leaving eco-tourism as the most attractive way in which these vast places, stretching to hundreds of acres, can be economically viable and sustainable.

A pale-billed flowerpecker
A pale-billed flowerpecker 

Birds beckon

As we walk with a manager of one such plantation, along the twisted tracks that snake their way through the slopes cloaked by the coffee and the shade trees that are interspersed with the crop, and listen to his stories, we begin to realise that, though these are monocultures and plantations, and a shadow of the original forest they replaced in terms of biodiversity, there is still quite an amazing amount of birdlife that is to be found here.

A vernal hanging parrot — the only species of parrot that is to be found in India — plucks at berries low in the canopy. Up on the treetops, green imperial pigeons sit cosily in pairs. Orange minivets come in looking for a feast, but always keeping a healthy distance from the raucous Malabar parakeets. The oriental white eyes and the thick-billed flowerpeckers don’t care much for any of their neighbours, and go about being their usual, busy self. The barbets are always the more cautious of all; true arboreal birds, once down from their highest treetops they become fidgety, ready to scoot at a moment’s notice.

Talking to the plantation manager, it is clear that the birds are very much part of the ecosystem here and are not much worse off for having lost a part of the native forest. Birds help us, he said; there are studies to prove that pollination has been better in such places, and this particular plantation had not used chemicals for over a decade. We like the birds, he said, and they keep a lot of the weeds away; and as for the berries, the birds never really take more than what they need. As for the coffee itself, out here in the very bowl where it’s grown, the taste couldn’t possibly get better. But it does, especially when you get to sip it just when the clouds finally clear up to reveal the vistas they normally conceal.

Of which there are plenty. Driving along the hills, the roads often take a turn and reveal a landscape painted by god in leisure. Cool and blue water, stilled to perfection, cradled by low hills of distant and untouched green. Sunlight plays with the scene every now and then, bathing it with indescribable hues that only the eye can see, and is often beyond the dream of any camera to capture.

Marvelling at nature’s beauty

In a place like Mudigere, depending on the mood that you are in, there is as much to do and as much to forget about doing. There are endless walks on offer, exploring the green slopes all around, soaking in the fresh air and looking for all forms of flora and fauna, especially avian. Lakes and waterbodies abound the area, and trips to lakes such as Hirekolale are a wonderful idea any time of the day. A spectacular view of the lay of the land and the vast rolling hills of the Western Ghats landscape can be had from various vantage points, with the nearby Gatikallu cliffs probably taking the cake for this, and Thirumaleguppi coming a close second.

Umpteen waterfalls to gape at and wonder are scattered throughout, and are in full flow, usually for a few months after the monsoon. About an hour away, at Bhadra, is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful tiger reserves of India. A day’s excursion there, along with wildlife safaris in the early morning and afternoon, is one of the best ways to round off a trip to this corner of the Western Ghats.

Mudigere will always be especially alluring to nature lovers, but it invites one and all to step out of the humdrum of our everyday lives and dip into nature for resuscitation. Nothing comes close to the magic that nature can weave, and nothing is more enduring than the peace that such places can bring.

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